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Biden Hits Russia With New Sanctions in Response to Election Meddling
Written by <a href="index.php?option=com_comprofiler&task=userProfile&user=54148"><span class="small">Andrew Roth, Guardian UK</span></a>   
Thursday, 15 April 2021 12:14

Roth writes: "The Biden administration has announced the expulsion of 10 Russian diplomats and broad sanctions against Russian officials and companies in retaliation for Moscow's interference in elections and cyber-espionage campaigns such as the SolarWinds hack."

Russian president Vladimir Putin. (photo: Alexei Druzhinin/Getty)
Russian president Vladimir Putin. (photo: Alexei Druzhinin/Getty)

Biden Hits Russia With New Sanctions in Response to Election Meddling

By Andrew Roth, Guardian UK

15 April 21

Ten diplomats expelled as part of fresh package of sanctions announced by US president as Russia says retaliation ‘inevitable’

he Biden administration has announced the expulsion of 10 Russian diplomats and broad sanctions against Russian officials and companies in retaliation for Moscow’s interference in elections and cyber-espionage campaigns such as the SolarWinds hack.

The sanctions, which were the Biden’s largest punitive action against the Kremlin yet, also targeted six Russian cybersecurity companies deemed to be involved in the SolarWinds hack, as well as 32 individuals and entities deemed to be involved in efforts to influence the outcome of the 2020 US presidential election.

The Biden administration also barred US financial institutions from buying rouble bonds newly issued by Russia’s central bank or other large financial institutions, targeting the country’s sovereign debt and its broader economy.

“I have determined that specified harmful foreign activities of the Government of the Russian Federation … constitute an unusual and extraordinary threat to the national security, foreign policy, and economy of the United States,” Biden wrote in a letter to Congress regarding the sanctions.

The report also went into granular detail exposing Russian espionage methods. For the first time, the US identified the SVR, Russia’s foreign intelligence agency, as the spy agency that carried out the SolarWinds software supply chain hack, which penetrated federal government networks and compromised more than 16,000 computers systems. Members of Russian intelligence would be among the diplomats expelled from the United States, the White House said.

In a coordinated release, the British spy agency GCHQ on Thursday also attributed the SolarWinds hack to the SVR, and accused the agency of targeting diplomatic and military institutions in Nato countries since 2011 and research institutes since 2015. Previously identified as APT 29, Cozy Bear and The Dukes, the SVR has also been accused of penetrating the Democratic National Committee during the 2016 US presidential elections.

“We see what Russia is doing to undermine our democracies,” said the British foreign secretary, Dominic Raab, in a statement. “The UK and US are calling out Russia’s malicious behaviour, to enable our international partners and businesses at home to better defend and prepare themselves against this kind of action.”

The UK foreign office said it had summoned the Russian ambassador in London to express its deep concern at what it called Moscow’s “pattern of malign activity”.

Russian officials reacted angrily to the new sanctions, with some saying it would scuttle any chance of a summit between Biden and Vladimir Putin. The Russian foreign ministry summoned the US ambassador for a “difficult talk” and called the sanctions “aggressive behaviour”, adding that Russian counter-sanctions were “inevitable”.

Those sanctioned included Alexei Gromov, a Kremlin official who curates Russia’s media and was accused of seeking “to exacerbate tensions in the United States by discrediting the 2020 US elections process” Yevgeny Prigozhin, a Kremlin-linked businessman accused of running the Internet Research Agency online trolling operation and an overseas paramilitary outfit, was a key target of the sanctions, as were information outlets tied to Russian intelligence agencies. Konstantin Kilimnik, a Ukrainian political consultant and former aide to Paul Manafort, was also sanctioned for election interference and aiding the disgraced ex-president Viktor Yanukovych.

Officials had said that the new sanctions were meant to cut deeper than previous attempts to punish Moscow for its attacks on US institutions and allies. Some Russian officials have laughed off being added to the treasury department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) sanctions lists, comparing it to being elevated to an elite club.

There are some limits to the severity of the sanctions. Many of those in Prigozhin’s network targeted by the sanctions are intentionally expendable, and the ban on buying rouble bonds only applies to their primary issue, meaning they would still remain available to trade on secondary markets.

The sanctions on IT companies that contract with government agencies could be disruptive for the sector, said Vladimir Frolov, a political analyst, but “other than that, it’s largely a signal exercise” to show Biden negotiating from a position of strength.

Nonetheless, Frolov added, Moscow may have “to respond aggressively to deny Biden the optics advantage of negotiating from a position of strength and chewing gum”.

There are already signs that the sanctions will add tension to an already strained relationship between Russia and the US. Since last month, Moscow has been engaged in the largest troop buildup on its border with Ukraine since the 2014 annexation of Crimea, provoking fears of an invasion.

Biden called Putin on Tuesday to urge him to de-escalate tensions with Ukraine and proposed a summit in a third country. The Kremlin gave a frosty account of the phone call, and did not say whether Putin had agreed to the meeting. Earlier on Thursday, the Kremlin spokesman, Dmitri Peskov, said that the summit could not be held in the coming weeks.

The US president’s tough approach differs considerably from that of the Trump administration, which sought to avoid confronting Russia over reports of election interference. During a summit in Helsinki, Trump sided with Putin over an FBI assessment that Russia had interfered in the 2016 elections, saying “President Putin says it’s not Russia. I don’t see any reason why it would be.”

The sanctions are also retaliation for Russian interference in the 2020 elections, in which US intelligence agencies concluded that the Kremlin had backed Trump over Biden, although they are not believed to have considerably influenced the result.

Peskov said Russia would retaliate against the new sanctions. “The principle of reciprocity applies … to best ensure our own interests.”

A senior US official said: “We want to be clear that we have no desire to be in an escalatory cycle with Russia … We intend these responses to be proportionate and tailored to the specific past actions that Russia has taken.”

Peskov declined to say whether Putin and Biden had discussed the sanctions during their phone call this week.

The Biden administration announced sanctions last month over the poisoning and imprisonment of the opposition politician Alexei Navalny. The sanctions included visa restrictions, export restrictions on items that could be used to make chemical and biological weapons, and targeted action against seven senior members of the Russian government.

The measures also entailed an expansion of sanctions under the Chemical and Biological Weapons Control and Warfare Elimination Act. your social media marketing partner